By Bernadine Rodrigo
The Ballet School of Colombo was re-established recently under its new name after it was taken over by ballerinas since childhood, Romina Gyi Wafa and Tara Cooke.
The school had no need of establishing them further as it was a new beginning to a school which was well known and very well respected in Sri Lanka, known as Oosha Garten of Ballet. This ballet school was run by one of Sri Lanka’s most beloved ballet dancers, Oosha Saravanamuttu, for half-a-century until “Auntie Oosha”, as she liked to be called, passed away. However, Romina and Tara, students who Auntie Oosha lovingly trained, took over and began running the school as The Ballet School of Colombo.
The school has been going on excellently with many workshops and lessons and a strong following of students from all age groups. However, as the spread of Covid-19 has affected the entire country and the subsequent curfew impacted every part and sector in the country, the school too had to close down. Yet, the persevering teachers did not give up. Romina and Tara were not ones to simply let it rest and wait until everything is over to start training their dancers again. They were also in the unknown about when everything will get back to normal again, so they decided they would have to figure out alternative ways to keep the students dancing so that they wouldn’t get out of touch or forget their steps and continue to maintain their ballet momentum. Very fast they began to understand the possibility of conducting online classes as they saw that many foreign schools had begun to go online.
Right away, they began conducting classes for their older students. Romina and Tara said that it was very easy to teach the older students online as they are able to grasp instructions better and are also much more well versed when it comes to navigating technology for such purposes, while the younger kids need the assistance and supervision of their parents. While the school teaches six groups – namely, Baby Ballet, Junior, Intermediate, Advance, Adults Beginner, and Adult Intermediate – the Advance dancers were able to continue classes online since the end of March itself. Meanwhile, the wheels were in place to involve the rest of the school, especially the little ones.
Hence, the two teachers decided to implement a method similar to that followed by schools. They realised that since this is a method familiar to students and parents, it would be much easier for them to follow the instructions and do what was necessary. They decided to send them basic instructions with things the kids would already know, after having them done in class.
Romina and Tara are not at all discouraged by the inability to conduct physical classes and see this time as an opportunity to explore parts of ballet which they could otherwise neglect during dancing. They have begun to shine a light on the theoretical parts of the dance when conducting these lessons online and on the study packs, including information about stage performances, costumes, and the history of the art. The duo believe that this is a great time for everyone – students and their parents alike – to understand more about ballet and all that it encompasses.
As a result of the encouraging feedback they have been receiving online with their existing students, Romina and Tara have decided to continue the classes online for the rest of the term. They believe this is a good idea as just when curfew is lifted, most parents would be reluctant to send their children, and if they stop conducting online classes, these students would miss out greatly.
This positivity has also pushed them towards doing something which is sure to pique the interests of ballet enthusiasts stuck at home, unable to attend any lessons. They are hoping to conduct a special 10-week programme starting this June for anybody and everybody who wants to learn something about ballet but haven’t had the opportunity to. While it will be largely theoretical, they will be dealing with different topics such as theatre, creativity, influencing through ballet, how productions work, and so on.
They are extremely excited to conduct this programme as they believe it would be a great joy to many people who could use some recreation of the sort at a time like this, in addition to helping out the parents who are looking for ways to keep their bored kids occupied. They hope that everyone interested would be able to join this exciting new programme.
Positivity all over
Indicating the great success of their baseline online programme, some participants have commented with triumphant positivity.
* Priscilla Benedict: “TBSC has been having online classes, which has helped me to keep fit and working on my ballet technique. We continue to work on our core strength and flexibility. It’s also a lot of fun to meet the ladies and continue class with them.”
* Mahika Chandrasena: “Social distancing meant that our dance sessions got cancelled at the mezzanine floor of the Musaeus College Auditorium. However, The Ballet School of Colombo continued training via Zoom. Yes, they really made our technique sharp from home by gathering mentors from Paris and even world-class ballet stars giving us interactive classes to get that technique perfect. The mixed blessing about online was how we received real-time corrections and a Q&A after every session.
“We also had the privilege and opportunity of watching live streaming ballet performances from the iconic London venue of the Royal Ballet and the most notable past performances by Moscow’s famed Bolshoi Theater – these were once-in-a-lifetime experiences to which we have to be thankful. I thank the school for the consistency and tenacity to give us techniques to make this art form a success. The pandemic and lockdowns may have been pervasive, but The Ballet School of Colombo made sure all our movements were certainly not restricted! We sought fitness, relieved stress, self-healing – and made new connections too. Bless you all. Let us stay hopeful and resilient!”
* Amanda Illeperumaarachchi: “The past two months of curfew have been particularly challenging for those of us passionate about dance. Not only is dance and movement a mode of personal expression, but also an avenue for physical fitness and mental wellbeing. So when confronted with the new reality of not being able to go to the dance studio, the senior dancers at The Ballet School of Colombo took to Zoom. Sure, one could argue that anyone could dance alone at home, but the shared experience of dancing in ensembles is something that we craved for even more in these times of isolation.
“What initially started as a need for a collective experience grew into biweekly sessions panning almost two hours of classical, contemporary, and dance fitness. Going online has enabled different members to take turns leading sessions and sharing exercises and choreography. It also allowed TBSC alumni from around the world to join and lead sessions too. From France, Australia, the US, and Sri Lanka, TBSC dancers are dancing through this challenging time and celebrating the spirit of resilience and hope that binds us all together. While there’s plenty to complain about being stuck at home, there’s also plenty to be thankful for!”
* Chalukya and Romesh Gunasekara: “As ex-dancers many decades past, it was pretty exciting to pick up the thread last year in the relaxed and friendly atmosphere of TBSC in the company of old pals and lovely young ballerinas. Although the curfew left us with a sudden physical and mental void, the dynamic duo (Tara and Romina) rose quickly to the challenge to start online sessions. Amazingly, in spite of the lack of physical proximity, the quality of the classes have been maintained as before. In fact, many experienced dancers living abroad too were able to join and contribute their talents, introducing new routines to add flavour to the sessions. What a collective effort! From classical to Zumba, barre to the mat – it has become the high point of the week during lockdown. So happy to be part of it! Well done TBSC.”
* Janindu Ranasinghe: “Having gone through several online classes with TBSC, it has always been a wonderful experience. Tara and Romina have always created a positive, ethical, and nurturing environment and during this pandemic too they never failed. They are not only teachers, but mentors and role models. As a certified Zumba/strong nation instructor in Sri Lanka, I am proud to be a part of this great big family. Ballet has always been the foundation and core to everything I do. Being able to train with so many of us from different parts of the world and still feel so close to each other was a great feeling of courage and positivity! If you are a passionate dancer, it goes to show that nothing can stop you from achieving your dreams and with TBSC as the driving force, there is nothing greater than that to expect!”
* Shalini De Mel: “Being in quarantine has not stopped the senior TBSC students’ love for dance. We have our online classes twice a week where our alumni join in from abroad as well. We are unable to do everything that we do in class, but we have started to concentrate more on the small things that we often tend to overlook – the small things that help improve technique, posture, and balance. We are currently in the process of developing an online programme for all the students in which they will not only improve their technique, but will also learn about the history of ballet and how it has developed throughout the years.”
* Madhulika and Sumaya Gunawardena: “During the period of lockdown, keeping fit has been a very important initiative. Therefore, The Ballet School of Colombo has helped us get through not only physical, but also mental awareness. Both Tara and Romina have brought together an amazing experience by virtually connecting us through Zoom sessions with one of Auntie’s Oosha’s well-renowned former students. She has taught us many new techniques of ballet and specifically the relationship between dance and physics.”